H U M A N R I G H T S W A T C H. TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions

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1 H U M A N R I G H T S W A T C H TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions

2 Turning Migrants into Criminals The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions

3 All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America ISBN: Cover design by Rafael Jimenez Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable. We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law. We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all. Human Rights Watch is an international organization with staff in more than 40 countries, and offices in Amsterdam, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Goma, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Nairobi, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, Tunis, Washington DC, and Zurich. For more information, please visit our website:

4 MAY Turning Migrants into Criminals The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions Summary... 1 Recommendations... 7 To the US Congress... 7 To the US Department of Justice and US Attorneys... 7 To US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)... 7 To US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)... 8 To the US Sentencing Commission... 8 Methodology... 9 I. Background Illegal Entry and Reentry Crimes What the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Say Who is Being Prosecuted for Illegal Entry and Reentry? Relevant Border Patrol Policies II. Criminal Prosecutions Fail to Focus on Serious Threats Increased Prosecution of Unauthorized Immigrants with Minor Criminal Histories Critical Views of Judges and Attorneys Rapid-Fire Group Trials: Operation Streamline Secure Communities and State Immigrant Laws Diverting Resources from Serious Crimes III. Criminal Prosecutions Impinge on the Rights to Family Unity and to Seek Asylum Family Unity Asylum Seekers IV. Is It Worth It? Limited Deterrent Effect Significant Financial Costs Due Process Shortcuts Acknowledgments... 82

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6 Summary I have not lost the desire to try again When Human Rights Watch met Alicia S. (pseudonym) at a women s shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, it had been two-and-a-half years since she had last seen her daughters. Alicia came to the United States without authorization in She met and married another unauthorized immigrant, and they had two US-born daughters, now 11 and 9 years old. At the age of 5, her younger daughter s kidneys began to fail. In 2009, Alicia s husband was deported (and she has not heard from him since). A year later, police stopped Alicia for pulling out of a parking lot without her lights on. Surrounded by several squad cars, she was arrested for not having paid a ticket for driving without insurance. She was taken away while her daughters cried in the back seat. That was the last time Alicia saw her daughters. She was soon after deported to Mexico. Her daughters are now in foster care. Soon after being deported, Alicia received word that her daughter had successfully received a kidney transplant. I felt so much joy, I was so happy, Alicia said, smiling at the memory even as she cried. But I felt sad that I could not be in the hospital taking care of her. Alicia has tried to return to the US several times. The first time, she was stopped near the border and placed in immigration detention for three months. The second time, she was abandoned by smugglers without water and food in Texas, apprehended, and criminally prosecuted for the federal misdemeanor of illegal entry. She told us that at the hearing in federal court, where she stood with two dozen other defendants, I begged the judge to forgive me, that I was desperate because of my daughters. He gave her a criminal sentence of 13 days in prison. A lawyer later told her the conviction would make it almost impossible for her ever to get a US visa, and if she were to return, she could face prosecution for the felony of illegal reentry. But Alicia cannot imagine living without her daughters. She told us, I have not lost the desire to try again. 1 1 Human Rights Watch interview with Alicia S. (pseudonym), Tijuana, Mexico, October 17, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

7 Alicia S. is one of the tens of thousands of migrants each year who face criminal prosecution on top of deportation and other civil penalties, for illegal entry or reentry to the United States. Illegal entry, the misdemeanor of entering the country without authorization, and illegal reentry, the felony of reentering the country after deportation, are now the most prosecuted federal crimes in the United States. The criminal prosecution of illegal entrants has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. In 2002, there were 3,000 prosecutions for illegal entry and 8,000 for illegal reentry; a decade later, in 2012, these prosecutions had increased to 48,000 and 37,000, respectively. These cases now outnumber other frequently prosecuted federal offenses such as drug, firearm, and white-collar crimes. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency that enforces US immigration laws, refers more cases for prosecution to the US Department of Justice than do the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agency (ATF), and the US Marshals service combined. 2 Nearly everyone charged with these offenses pleads guilty, and they end up serving federal prison sentences ranging from a few days to 10 years or more for felony reentry before they are eventually deported. The rapid growth in federal prosecutions of immigration offenses is part of a larger trend in which criminal law enforcement resources have been brought to bear on immigration enforcement, traditionally considered a civil matter. The US government claims these prosecutions have two purposes: to keep dangerous criminals from entering the United States and to deter illegal immigration in general. As detailed below, however, a close examination of who is being imprisoned for illegal entry and reentry suggests that many of the prosecutions are not meeting their purported goals. Many of the people now being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry and reentry have no criminal history or were convicted in the past of only minor, nonviolent crimes. And, as 2 Syracuse University, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), Going Deeper tool, Prosecutions for 2011, (accessed May 10, 2013). See also Migration Policy Institute, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery, January 2013, (accessed April 7, 2013), p. 10. TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS 2

8 Alicia s comments above suggest, many are not likely to be deterred by the threat of prison: people seeking to join their children or other loved ones are not likely to simply give up. Meanwhile, the costs of the increased prosecutions are significant and growing. The costs include an estimated $1 billion annually in incarceration costs alone and lasting damage to the lives of migrants and their family members, tens of thousands of whom are US citizens or permanent residents. This report is based on analyses of publicly available data from the US Sentencing Commission and other agencies, as well as 191 interviews with individuals charged with illegal entry or reentry, their families, other unauthorized migrants who have repeatedly entered the United States, criminal defense attorneys, immigration attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and representatives of humanitarian and advocacy organizations. In many cases, we corroborated details of individuals accounts with publicly available court records. This report was also informed by meetings with officials in the US Customs and Border Protection agency, and in two divisions within the US Department of Justice: the Civil Rights Division and the Executive Office of Immigration Review. For years, federal prosecutors have claimed that prosecutorial resources for felony illegal reentry are focused on unauthorized migrants who pose a threat to public safety. In the past, a majority of people charged with felony immigration crimes indeed had a prior conviction for a serious felony. Data from the US Sentencing Commission reveals, however, that the criminal histories of defendants sentenced to federal prison under the illegal entry offense guideline has shifted dramatically over the past decade. In 2002, 42 percent had criminal convictions considered most serious by the Commission such as a conviction for a crime of violence or a firearms offense while only 17 percent had no prior felony convictions. By 2011, the proportion of defendants with convictions considered most serious had dropped to 27 percent, while the proportion of defendants with no prior felony convictions had increased to 27 percent. The lack of selectivity in prosecution is exacerbated by the ways in which conviction for misdemeanor illegal entry and subsequent deportation can become a predicate for felony illegal reentry charges. Illegal entry and reentry prosecutions have grown along the US- Mexico border as part of US Border Patrol strategy to deter illegal immigration. Once convicted of illegal entry, including through a mass-prosecution program like Operation Streamline, a migrant who attempts to reenter the US illegally is more likely to be 3 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

9 prosecuted for illegal reentry because he or she now has a criminal record. With each new crossing and arrest, the criminal sanction becomes increasingly harsh. While the maximum sentence for a first-time misdemeanor entry conviction is six months, the sentence for illegal reentry is enhanced by every prior criminal conviction, up to a maximum of 20 years for a prior aggravated felony conviction. As one criminal defense attorney stated, There s a class of people doing life sentences on the installment plan. There is limited evidence on the extent to which these prosecutions deter illegal immigration. Given the powerful economic and political push factors driving migration to the US, and the fact that US demands for migrant labor far exceed the number of available visas, it is reasonable to conjecture that the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution in this area would be less than in many other areas, at least for migrants who are desperate. Such prosecutions are particularly less likely to deter migrants, even repeat offenders, when they are motivated by very basic human needs such as the desire to reunite with children or other close family members or evade violence or persecution at home. The increasing reliance on criminal prosecution in this context also raises serious human rights concerns. As Human Rights Watch has previously documented, US civil immigration law fails to adequately protect families and makes it nearly impossible for many who have been deported to reunite with their families legally in the United States. Recent surveys, as well as reports from humanitarian organizations along the border, indicate that a growing number of people seeking entry into the United States are not traditional migrants but former long-term residents seeking to return to their families. Increasingly, the US immigration system is splitting families through deportation and then subjecting the deported family member to potentially lengthy prison terms for trying to reunite with loved ones. The focus on criminal prosecutions also means that asylum seekers fleeing violence or persecution can face serious obstacles to obtaining the protection guaranteed by international refugee law ratified by the United States. Although international law does not explicitly prohibit the use of criminal sanctions against unauthorized immigrants, United Nations human rights experts have urged the use of civil law, and strongly cautioned against using criminal law, to punish illegal entrants. The UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has stated, [I]rregular entry or stay should never be considered criminal offences: they are not per se crimes against persons, property, or national security. TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS 4

10 The breadth and scope of criminal prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry, moreover, have led to procedural shortcuts, including rapid-fire group trials in Operation Streamline, that imperil the due process rights of immigration defendants. The considerable financial costs of criminally prosecuting unauthorized migrants also militate against the current prosecution-heavy approach. A September 2012 report estimated that incarceration costs alone for those sentenced for illegal entry and reentry reached $1 billion in fiscal year Defendants serving sentences for illegal entry and reentry are a source of the burgeoning federal prison population, and given overcrowding, many end up in costly facilities run by private prison companies. Other costs relating to criminal prosecution including criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, and more add to the costs. Not surprisingly, a number of prosecutors, other law enforcement officials, and federal judges have criticized the huge reallocation of resources toward prosecuting people who do not pose a threat to public safety or national security, particularly when the civil immigration system has its own penalties for illegal entry and reentry. Human Rights Watch acknowledges that all sovereign states have a legitimate interest in regulating entry into their territories. We recognize that states have a particular interest in deterring the illegal entry or reentry of persons who pose a threat to public safety. The US government has decided that this is best accomplished through criminal prosecution rather than just civil enforcement of immigration law. But the prosecutions of illegal entry offenses happening today are overbroad, reaching people who do not belong in prison, and are thus draining resources that could go to efforts to increase public safety and create a more secure, efficient, and humane immigration system. As the Obama administration and Congress debate a potential overhaul of the country s immigration laws, there is a danger that prosecutions and statutory penalties for these offenses will increase in the name of increased border security. But the US cannot afford simply more of the same. A program permitting legalization would be an important step in addressing the vulnerability of many migrants to abuse and the inequities of the current immigration system. But rights to family unity and to seek asylum, as well as to due process, will not be protected unless US policymakers also address the current misguided and costly overreliance on criminal prosecution in policing the border. 5 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

11 Prosecuting asylum seekers prior to adjudication of their asylum applications violates US obligations under international refugee law and should cease. And the significant impact criminal prosecutions have on unauthorized migrants seeking to reunite with children and other close family members, particularly where there is no evidence the migrants are dangerous, argues for applying civil rather than criminal immigration remedies and penalties. At the very least, the US government should take this opportunity to evaluate whether the existing emphasis on criminal prosecutions meets its intended goals, to limit the growth of such prosecutions (including by suspending Operation Streamline), and to ensure that US immigration practices are as respectful of fundamental human rights as they can be. TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS 6

12 Recommendations To the US Congress Amend US immigration law to better protect family unity: o Allow for family ties and other positive factors to be factored into any deportation decision, including in cases involving non-citizens with prior criminal convictions. o Allow non-citizens whose deportations under existing law bar them from returning to the United States to apply for waivers of these bars based on evidence of strong ties to US citizen or permanent resident family members. Amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to impose only civil penalties, not criminal penalties, on illegal entry and illegal reentry. At a minimum, restore the prior version of the statute making illegal reentry punishable by up to 2 years in federal prison, instead of 20 and prohibit the prosecution of asylum seekers. Repeal or amend authorization for Operation Streamline and other programs that facilitate mass prosecutions and undercut the due process rights of those charged with illegal entry offenses. To the US Department of Justice and US Attorneys Discontinue Operation Streamline and similar programs. Enact national guidelines recommending against prosecution of illegal entry and reentry where the migrant has close family ties or fears violence and persecution abroad. Support changes to the Sentencing Guidelines to ensure that the most severe sentences are imposed on those with convictions for serious, violent felonies. To US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Ensure that all asylum seekers are able to begin the process to apply for asylum when they are first apprehended by CBP personnel. Refer non-citizens for criminal prosecution only when they have recent convictions for serious, violent felonies. Discontinue Operation Streamline and similar programs. 7 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

13 Develop a policy allowing CBP agents to consider factors such as close family ties and extenuating circumstances in deciding whether to grant parole. To US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Refer non-citizens for criminal prosecution only when they have recent convictions for serious, violent felonies. Ensure consistent, nationwide application of the existing ICE policy on prosecutorial discretion to limit deportations of non-citizens with ties to US families. To the US Sentencing Commission Conduct a study assessing whether the current system of sentence enhancements for illegal entry offenses is furthering appropriate criminal justice goals and is welltailored to best meet those goals. Revise the sentencing guideline for illegal entry offenses to ensure that the most severe penalties are imposed on those with recent convictions for serious, violent felonies. Conduct research to determine the proportion of defendants convicted of illegal entry offenses who have ties to US families, and the extent to which these ties impact reentry rates. TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS 8

14 Methodology This report is based on interviews and research conducted from February 2012 to April In all, Human Rights Watch conducted 191 interviews with individuals charged with illegal entry or reentry, their families, unauthorized migrants who have repeatedly entered the United States, criminal defense attorneys, immigration attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and representatives of humanitarian and advocacy organizations. We interviewed 55 people convicted of illegal entry or reentry, and interviewed family members or lawyers in another 18 cases for a total of 73 separate case accounts. We examined publicly available court records in 62 cases, including some cases for which we also had interviews and some for which we did not. Finally, we corresponded with 35 individuals (including two whose family members we interviewed) serving sentences in federal prison for illegal entry or reentry, who consented to participate in our research. The cases were identified in a variety of ways. In some cases, criminal defense or immigration attorneys and local advocates referred us to individuals and families. In other cases, interviews with migrants in Nogales, Tijuana, and Rosarito, Mexico led us to individuals who had been charged with illegal entry or reentry. We also identified defendants and attorneys through searches of news or legal databases, or communicated with the attorney or family directly after observing a court proceeding. Most of the individuals who corresponded with us, and some of the defendants and family members we interviewed, contacted Human Rights Watch directly after hearing from other inmates about our research. Our cases do not constitute a random sample, but they include non-citizens both with and without strong ties to US families and with a variety of prior criminal records. The cases documented in this report are largely from the federal court jurisdictions (federal districts) with the most illegal entry and reentry prosecutions Arizona, New Mexico, the Western and Southern Districts of Texas, and the Southern and Central Districts of California. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with some defendants while they were in detention awaiting sentencing or serving their sentences in Los Angeles, California; Raymondville, Marfa, Pecos, and El Paso, Texas; and Florence, Arizona. We conducted interviews with individuals who had been deported in Nogales, Tijuana, and Rosarito, Mexico, and with family members affected by these prosecutions in Arizona, California, 9 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

15 and Texas. In many cases, we obtained publicly available federal court documents from PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) to corroborate information provided by defendants, family members, and attorneys. We also documented cases and interviewed criminal defense attorneys, immigration attorneys, and prosecutors in the District of Columbia, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, and other states which we have not identified at the request of the interviewees. The views expressed by all assistant federal defenders are their own and not representative of their offices. The majority of interviews were conducted in person; some were conducted by telephone or videoconference and are indicated as such in the relevant citations. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, or a combination of the two, depending on the interviewee s preference. Interviews in Spanish were conducted by a Human Rights Watch researcher fluent in Spanish or with the assistance of an interpreter. All participants were informed of the purpose of the interview and consented orally. No interviewee received compensation for providing information. Where appropriate, Human Rights Watch provided interviewees with contact information for organizations providing legal, counseling, or social services. We have used pseudonyms to protect the privacy of certain individuals at their request. Human Rights Watch researchers and an intern observed illegal entry and reentry hearings, including Operation Streamline proceedings, in Brownsville, Del Rio, and El Paso, Texas; Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona; and Los Angeles, California. Human Rights Watch also reviewed press reports and reports by nongovernmental organizations. We analyzed publicly available data and reports from the US Sentencing Commission, the Administrative Office of the US Courts, the Executive Office of US Attorneys, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as well as data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Human Rights Watch, with other advocacy organizations, met in February 2013 with US Customs and Border Protection officials and officials at the US Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division and the Executive Office of Immigration Review); we thank them for taking the time to provide information on this issue. We also submitted a list of questions to the US Department of Justice and requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act to US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to which we have yet to receive a response. TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS 10

16 I. Background Illegal entry and presence in the United States without authorization violate US civil immigration law and are punishable by removal from the country and other civil law penalties. The act of entering the United States without authorization (illegal entry) and the act of reentering after deportation (illegal reentry) are also federal crimes. Both offenses have existed as federal crimes in various forms since the early 20th century, but the sentences, rates of prosecution, and justifications for prosecution have changed over the years. Illegal Entry and Reentry Crimes Under US federal law, at 8 US Code Section 1325, a non-citizen who enters or seeks to enter the United States at a place other than a port of entry, or by fraud or false documents, commits a federal misdemeanor offense that is punishable by up to six months in prison. A subsequent conviction for illegal entry can be punishable by up to two years. 3 Under 8 US Code Section 1326, reentering or being found in the United States without authorization after deportation constitutes felony illegal reentry. The non-citizen must have been formally removed before he or she reentered; he or she cannot have left the United States voluntarily. 4 Over the years, Congress has amended the illegal reentry statute to increase the maximum penalties for different categories of defendants. In 1952, the maximum punishment for all people convicted of illegal reentry was two years in prison. In 1986, the Immigration Reform Act upped the maximum penalty to 20 years in prison for defendants who reenter the United States after prior convictions for aggravated felonies (lower maximum sentences apply to defendants with other prior criminal convictions). 5 Aggravated felony in this context is defined in the same broad way as it is in the Immigration and Nationality Act, and can include nonviolent crimes and even state misdemeanors that match one of the many enumerated crimes. 6 These changes reflect a change in the justification for these 3 Immigration and Nationality Act Section 275, 8 US Code Section 1325 (2012). 4 Immigration and Nationality Act Section 276, 8 US Code Section 1326 (2012). 5 See Doug Keller, Re-thinking Illegal Entry and Re-entry, Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, vol. 44, Fall See Immigration and Nationality Act Section 101(a)(43), 8 US Code Section 1101(a)(43) (2012). 11 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

17 prosecutions: the penalties have increased as legislators focus has shifted from deterring illegal reentry to targeting dangerous criminals who might commit new crimes in the US, with the existence of a prior criminal record serving as a proxy for dangerousness. 7 As Figure I demonstrates, prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry have increased significantly over the past decade. For most of the 1990s, relatively few border-crossers were charged with illegal entry. Prosecutions jumped dramatically in 2004, and under President Barack Obama, the surge has continued. 8 Although illegal entry prosecutions have dropped slightly from a historic high of 54,000 in 2009, the level of prosecutions remains high. Illegal reentry prosecutions have increased dramatically as well, albeit more steadily. 7 See Keller, Rethinking Illegal Entry and Re-entry, Fall Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), Lead Charges for Criminal Immigration Prosecutions: FY 1986-FY 2011, 2011, (accessed April 12, 2013). TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS 12

18 13 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

19 Immigration cases now outnumber all other types of federal criminal cases filed in US district court. 9 These cases do not include the tens of thousands of first-time illegal entry cases that conclude in federal magistrate court. What the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Say Sentences within the federal criminal system are calculated according to guidelines promulgated by the US Sentencing Commission. The Commission is charged with developing guidelines to achieve reasonable uniformity among sentences for the same 9 Executive Office of US Attorneys, Annual Statistical Reports, , (accessed April 15, 2013). In 2012, immigration cases made up 40.6 percent of criminal cases filed. Eighty-five percent of immigration cases involved illegal entry or reentry charges. Administrative Office of US Courts, Caseload Statistics 2012, Table D-2: Defendants Commenced, by Major Offenses, 2008 through 2012, (accessed May 6, 2013). Because drug cases often involve several defendants, the total number of defendants charged for drug offenses in US district courts in 2012 (31,739) was higher than the number of defendants charged with immigration offenses in US district court (26,572). TURNING MIGRANTS INTO CRIMINALS 14

20 offenses, as well as proportionality in sentencing through a system that imposes appropriately different sentences for criminal conduct of differing severity. 10 In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Booker that the sentencing guidelines were not mandatory and that judges have the discretion to depart from these guidelines. 11 Judges, however, must still consult the guidelines, and according to a 2012 report by the Commission, [t]he sentencing guidelines have remained the essential starting point in all federal sentences and have continued to exert significant influence on federal sentencing trends over time. 12 The sentencing guidelines apply to felonies and Class A misdemeanors (misdemeanors for which the maximum sentence is one year or less but more than six months). 13 Sentencing guideline 2L1.2, for Unlawfully Entering or Remaining in the United States, applies to defendants convicted of felony illegal reentry or a second or subsequent charge of misdemeanor illegal entry. 14 Guideline sentences are calculated based on a combination of the offense level and the defendant s criminal history. The offense level for an illegal entry offense is based on the defendant s prior conviction or convictions. Guideline 2L1.2 treats certain prior criminal convictions for crimes of violence, drug trafficking (for which a sentence of 13 months or more was imposed), child pornography, firearms offenses, national security or terrorism offenses, human trafficking, or alien smuggling as most serious, warranting a significant 16-level increase in offense level. Other prior convictions result in increases of 4, 8, or 12 offense levels US Sentencing Commission, 2012 Sentencing Guidelines Manual, (accessed April 12, 2013). 11 United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). 12 US Sentencing Commission, Report on the Continuing Impact of US v. Booker on Federal Sentencing, 2012, /Part_A.pdf (accessed April 25, 2013) US Code Section 3559(a)(6) (2012). 14 US Sentencing Guideline 2L1.2, Unlawfully Entering or Remaining in the United States (2012). 15 Ibid. A conviction for a drug trafficking offense for which the sentence imposed was 13 months or less results in an increase of 12 levels; a conviction for an aggravated felony, 8 levels; a conviction for any other felony, 4 levels; and convictions for three or more misdemeanors that are crimes of violence or drug trafficking offenses, 4 levels (with some variations for older offenses). 15 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH MAY 2013

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